Two great games, and very telling. Indianapolis played the kind of game you want to play, committing just one penalty, turning the ball over just once (although it was costly) and relying on the brilliance of Peyton Manning to carry the Colts to victory. New Orleans took advantage of too many Vikings mistakes, kept pounding Brett Favre without sacking him and pressuring Minnesota's defense with some variety on offense and by winning the coin toss in overtime to get the first possession in sudden death.
Some observations from a most interesting Sunday ...
I really think Manning is the best quarterback I have ever seen, and that includes Joe Montana. That may be ridiculous to say, but there is no quarterback who commands the line of scrimmage as Manning does. He knows what is coming. He clearly anticipates three moves ahead of everyone else because he works so hard and has such an innate knowledge of the game. Remarkable player and remarkable game for the Colts, who basically took New York's best shot. The Jets played a perfect first half. For a minute or two there, especially when it was 17-6, you thought, "Maybe the Jets can pull off this upset." But Manning is relentless. He and the Colts put so much pressure on a defense. Every drive, you just hope and pray to get off the field.
- Classic question: Are Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie really that good or does the quarterback make them so much better? Or do the receivers make the quarterback better?
- I am so impressed by the way Manning and Drew Brees and Favre throw the ball into tight spots so well in the red zone. Rarely are you going to get a situation where the receiver is wide open. Was that fade pass to Garcon from Manning one of the best throws you have seen in a while?
- We've talked about the idea of the run/pass ratio and the "balance" of an offense throughout the playoffs. Clearly, Indy was lopsided throwing the football and the Vikings didn't run the ball much at all as they went back and forth and then spent the fourth quarter trailing by seven points in New Orleans.
- I want that fake pass/delayed lead draw play in the Eagles' offense next season. Everybody else uses it and clearly has success.
- And the fade, too. But maybe get a big receiver or a tight end (Cornelius Ingram? Martin Rucker?) and put that play into the game plan.
- We are in a two-running back league. There is no doubt about that any longer. One running back doesn't carry the day any longer, and hasn't for a few seasons. So as the Eagles put together this roster, they need to make sure they have depth, real, high-quality depth. A third running back who can play special teams, yeah, but somebody who can really carry the football if needed. I think Eldra Buckley made great strides in that direction last year. I think he could get a push from Martell Mallett, and then whatever happens in free agency and in the draft. If it is Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy and either Buckley or Martell, hey, convince me that such a threesome is enough. Westbrook has to have a great off-season. And McCoy needs to make a huge jump to build on a promising rookie season.
- Indianapolis handed off to Joseph Addai 16 times and to Donald Brown 6 times. Perfect. Absolutely the way you dream it up in a two-back setup.
- Late in the fourth quarter, with New Orleans on the field offensively with about 3 1/2 minutes to go, the Superdome was as quiet on television as I could ever imagine.
- Leslie Frazier is one of the all-time nice guys in the business and he deserves a chance to be a head coach. Totally class act and the job the Vikings did against that powerful Saints offense was just remarkable.
- The art of the kickoff returning is vanishing with these kickoff specialists. Touchback, touchback, touchback.
- Missed tackles are such a great mark of how well a defense is playing. There are all kinds of stats out there, but the defense that tackles the best usually wins the game.
- No sacks, but the Saints did a great job hitting Favre, who had one of the gutsiest performances I have ever seen. He took all those shots and how about that throw to Sidney Rice for 20 yards on the final drive? And then to come back with a perfect call on Chester Taylor's 14-yard run to the New Orleans 33-yard line? Brilliant offensive strategy.
- Twelve men in the huddle with 19 seconds left in the NFC Championship Game? And then to roll right and throw across the body into the middle of the field into coverage? What a terrible sequence of two plays for Favre,which reminded me of his last series when Green Bay lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship game a few years ago. Oh, my ...
- But I will say that I disagree with Troy Aikman, from Fox, who suggested Favre could have run the ball to get into field goal position. A linebacker was sitting and waiting for Favre, who shouldn't be needed to run the football for that offense.
- How would you feel if the Eagles used, say, three of their first six draft picks on linemen -- maybe one offensive and two defensive? Or the other way around?
- That handoff to Pierre Thomas when he dived over the top to convert the fourth-and-1 play in overtime? Boy, the Eagles miss that from Westbrook. I love jumping over the pile in short yardage.
- What is it with all of these missed field goals in the playoffs? All of a sudden, kickers are really having a hard time. Is it the pressure?
- The Saints get a big pass-interference penalty in overtime because, I think, Drew Brees threw the ball to a spot and knew he had the linebacker (Ben Leber) with his back to the football. Great awareness from Brees. And a terrific play on the next snap by Leber, who decked Bush for a 4-yard loss.
- I never knew that the officials would review basically every play in overtime of the NFC Championship Game. They reviewed three plays on New Orleans' drive and, yeah, it slowed the game down considerably, but it sure added to the edge-of-your-seat drama.
- I'm taking Indianapolis over New Orleans. Manning is too good.